Truman Review Summer 2000 - Index

Summer 2000
Vol. 4. No. 4

A Cultural Exchange
Finding A Hidden Story

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Truman Review Summer 2000 - A Cultural Exchange

A Cultural Exchange

Two Truman professors travel abroad on Fulbright grants to discover a more global view.

Members of the Truman faculty were recently selected to serve as cultural ambassadors for the prestigious Fulbright program sponsored by the U.S. Government. Earlier this summer, Dr. Jeffrey Osborn, associate professor of biology, returned from Sweden, where he conducted research at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. Soon after Osborn returned to Kirksville, Dr. David Robinson, associate professor of history, set off for South Ukraine to teach history at Kherson State Pedagogical University.

For more than half a century, the Fulbright Program has offered educational exchanges to foster mutual understanding between the United States and other countries. Osborn and Robinson join five other Truman colleagues who have received Fulbright Scholar appointments in recent years.

Conducting research in SwedenPicture of Dr. Jeffrey Osborn,  Yolanda Lawas and their daughter Alina in Stockholm
Osborn, a botanist who just started his 10th year teaching at Truman, realizes that sometimes it can be a real challenge to get students excited about the study of plants. That is why he strives to incorporate active learning to teach the process of doing science in addition to conveying content about science. "I believe biology is exciting when it is hands-on, so I try to incorporate field trips and research projects that are open-ended and allow students to learn the excitement of doing science rather than doing what we call 'cook-book laboratories' where all the instructions are spelled out," says Osborn. His recent trip to Stockholm, Sweden, on a Fulbright grant to conduct botanical research at the Swedish Museum of Natural History is one more way he can demonstrate to his students just how exciting the study of plants can be.

Botanists like Osborn have a special affinity for Sweden because it was the home of Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the father of modern plant and animal classification. For 4 1/2 months, Osborn set up residence in a furnished apartment in Stockholm along with his wife, Yolanda Lawas, and their 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Alina.

Their apartment was within walking distance of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, where Osborn conducted much of his research during his stay. The museum, well-known internationally for its collections of millions of specimens, provides the basis for research in the areas of botany, geology, zoology, paleobotany and paleontology. Osborn had the opportunity to work in the museum's Palynological Laboratory, one of the best laboratories in the world for the study of pollen and spores.

Osborn's previous studies of pollen formation in the American lotus had discovered that pollen grains have different apertures. The Fulbright grant allowed him to study the different aperture types found on the pollen grains of both species of lotus - the American lotus and the sacred lotus. "It is an interesting biological phenomenon," he says. "And it is also an important evolutionary character for looking at how plants are related to one another."

Through the grant, Osborn had time to focus solely on the research without having to fulfill the daily obligations of a professor, such as teaching classes and doing committee work. Another bonus provided by the grant was the chance to work and interact with Gamal El-Ghazaly, an expert in pollen development and director of the Palynological Lab at the museum. At Truman, Osborn is the only professor who studies pollen development. However, in Stockholm, he worked with many fellow botanists where they could bounce ideas off one another. "Working in an environment with people who are studying the same kind of things that I am interested in was very valuable," says Osborn. Not only did Osborn have the opportunity to try out new instruments, such as a laser confocal microscope, he also learned several new research techniques that he will now be able to introduce to his students at Truman.

Overall, Osborn's work in Stockholm was very productive in terms of research. According to Osborn, they have already submitted two papers to be published in peer-reviewed journals. Another project is near completion, and they started two other projects. Most importantly, the Fulbright grant began a collaboration between Osborn, his students, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and Truman State University that will carry on well into the future.

While in Sweden, Osborn had the opportunity to provide a cultural exchange by presenting a seminar at the museum. Sharing ideas about research and the educational system in America, he pointed out the similarities and differences between the American and Swedish systems. In addition, he presented information on the mission of Truman State University, describing what the students are like and the type of facilities available at Truman. Osborn is also sending the Fulbright office in Stockholm admission materials for Truman that can be made available to Swedish students who wish to study in the United States.

Now that he is back in the United States, Osborn is already making plans to approach his classes at Truman with a different perspective so students can benefit from his experience in Sweden. As a strong believer in personal interaction with students, Osborn enjoys working at an institution where doing research with undergraduate students is valued. "There may be opportunity for students to go to Sweden to do research there," says Osborn who is looking into developing a study-abroad course to Sweden. "As the home of Carl Linnaeus, who developed the binomial system of nomenclature, it is an important country with respect to botany," says Osborn.

The wealth of research opportunities in Sweden's capital attracts people from all around the world making Stockholm an exceptionally international city. "In addition to research, Stockholm offers opportunity for personal growth and a chance to learn about many other cultures," says Osborn.

Teaching in southern Ukraine
Dr. David RobinsonRobinson, a history professor who joined the Truman faculty in 1990, received a Fulbright grant to spend up to a year in Ukraine. A country in eastern Europe, Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe after Russia. Robinson will teach history classes at Kherson State Pedagogical University.

"I think we have done a very good job of showing the excellence of our students and the progress they make in our programs and curriculum," says Robinson. "One thing I am trying to do with this Fulbright grant is to get national recognition for the work of Truman State University's faculty." While serving as a professor at the university in Kherson, Robinson plans to teach American history, history of technology and business, history of science, and history of psychology.

Robinson became interested in applying for a Fulbright grant after another Truman professor, Seymour Patterson, went to Africa on a Fulbright grant. About the same time, a Fulbright scholar from Africa came to Kirksville and taught in Trumanšs history department. "I could see how much he helped us, coming from a very different culture and civilization to talk to us about the way we teach history and to learn about our university," says Robinson. "I think the Fulbright program was attracted by the idea of taking the approach we use here at Truman as a representative of good college teaching in the United States and using it as an example for an exchange of ideas in another country."

Teaching at a university in Ukraine is a natural progression for Robinson who began a mission more than 20 years ago. It started after he graduated from Harvard in 1976, when he received a Rotary Foundation Award to study in West Germany. The year he spent in West Germany left a major impression on him. "I realized that the time of my own life has been defined by the Cold War which was a result of the World Wars of the 20th century," explains Robinson.

Since then, he has been devoted to studies of European history and to the problems of modern civilization, as well as the history of education. He did his doctoral research in archives in Eastern Germany and took his Ph.D. in history at Berkeley in 1987. "Studying European history and the post-Cold War is a very good way of getting a handle on these large problems, since much of the Cold War was centered there."

Years later, Robinson, who by this time was teaching at Truman, took the next step in his journey which led him to Russia. While on sabbatical, he was able to advance his professional and personal pursuit even further by conducting research at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

When Robinson began looking at opportunities for a Fulbright grant, Ukraine came up as a logical choice to fulfill the next leg of his journey. "Ukraine is between all the cultures of Europe," says Robinson. "They have suffered in a way much like Germany has suffered throughout history by being at the crossroads of the great cultural, political, and military movements." Robinson sees his work in Ukraine as a way to enhance Truman State University's reputation, as well as an opportunity to continue the work he began in Germany.

Since 1991 when the republic of Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union, many transitions have taken place. As the people of Ukraine shift from a Soviet system to a market economy during the post-Soviet era, many questions have been raised. During his stay in Ukraine, Robinson plans to research some of these important issues that will have an impact on eastern Europe and on the rest of the world.

Many people are wondering if it will be possible to have both eastern and western Europe working together in the future. "Located between Russia and western Europe, Ukraine could develop in a positive direction toward peace and democratic institutions," says Robinson. "And if things go badly, we have to worry about the Russians and other countries finding a different course - one that we might have trouble living with."

While in Ukraine, Robinson hopes to learn more about the nation's music, art, architecture, religion and other cultural activities that he feels are essential to understanding the history of the place. "These are the type of things I have featured in my courses in the past," says Robinson. "These approaches fit together in ways that help my students experience and understand a place such as Ukraine. Because students have to learn so many things in the abstract from maps and textbooks," Robinson is pleased to have the opportunity to help them build a connection to reality by relating his own experiences.

Robinson learned Russian (the language spoken in most of southern Ukraine) by taking courses at Truman sitting in classes with the undergraduates. He stresses the importance of learning the language of the people when traveling to a foreign-speaking nation. "When an American can speak their language and wants to hear what they have to say, the kind of exchange you can arouse is so rewarding," says Robinson, who has found this to be true in his previous trips abroad. He strongly encourages all Truman students and alumni to take advantage of their foreign language course requirement. He also advises others not only to learn a foreign language, but also to take it a step further - if traveling to a foreign country is not possible, he suggests spending time with others who speak the language and know the culture. "It is important to the future of the United States that the best educated in our country also learn other languages," says Robinson. "In this aspect, I think Truman students are in better shape than many others."

The Origin of the Fulbright Program

Born in Sumner, Mo., April 9, 1905, J. William Fulbright became an American educator and politician. By the young age of 34, he had been named president of the University of Arkansas, and he entered politics in 1942. His political career spanned 32 years, during which time he served as a congressman, senator, and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, before his death in 1995.

One of Fulbright's goals was to create an exchange of students, scholars, and teachers to increase international understanding. He hoped this type of exchange would result in enlightened foreign policies. In 1946, while serving as the junior senator from Arkansas, Fulbright introduced legislation that led to the creation of the Fulbright Program to provide funds for the type of cultural exchange he had envisioned.

The Fulbright Program offers faculty, professionals, teachers, and students the opportunity to conduct research, teach or study abroad, with awards that range from two months to a full academic year. After more than half a century, the program has exchanged nearly a quarter of a million people - more than 70,000 Americans have studied or conducted research abroad, and more than 130,000 people from other countries have engaged in similar activities in the United States.

Today, the Fulbright Program is known as America's flagship educational exchange program and is sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), an independent foreign affairs agency within the executive branch of the U.S. government. USIA promotes mutual understanding among nations and peoples through a number of educational exchange activities. The agency also supports U.S. foreign policy through a wide range of information programs.